On Jan. 22, Tom Buck, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas, equated Vice President Kamala Harris with the biblical Jezebel. It was a strategic insult designed to terrorize and imbrute Harris. He joined Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, in this insult.
This is an old psychological strategy to dehumanize a woman as a justification to do her violence.
According to Sherry Hamby writing in Psychology: “People use dehumanization to justify greed, violence and abuse. Although dehumanization is most associated with right-wing nationalism, others sometimes use dehumanizing language, too …. Dehumanization involves redefining the targets of prejudices and violence by making them seem less human (that is, less civilized or less sentient) than other people.”
She continues to explain that the classic strategy for this is to use terms like “animals” and “vermin.” Referring to people as “illegals” is also dehumanizing.
A step away from violent rhetoric
Pastors Buck and Swofford have a responsibility as pastors to spread the Christian gospel of justice, truth and love. Contrarily, they have co-opted the Old Testament story of Jezebel and transformed it into a fuse that can lead to a stick of dynamite causing pain and even death.
Pastors Buck and Swofford used coded biblical language to dehumanize and bully Vice President Harris. They have weaponized the biblical text to potentially incite some poor soul to do violence to her.
As a reminder, this is no great leap. Here is a partial history of assassinations and attempted assassinations of presidents and elected leaders in the United States: John Wilks Booth (Abraham Lincoln), John Schrank (Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt), Giuseppe “Joe” Zangara, (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Lee Harvey Oswald, (John F. Kennedy), Sirhan Sirhan (Robert F. Kennedy), James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King Jr.), Arthur Bremer (George Wallace), Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Gerald Ford), John Warnock Hinckley Jr. (Ronald Reagan), Jared Lee Loughner (Gabrielle Giffords).
Weaponizing the biblical text
Pastor Buck tweeted, “I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power.” He then doubled down in the face of criticism, tweeting, “I fully stand by the point of my original tweet,” and insisting, “Should Jezebel, who governed in godless ways, have been a role model simply because she was a woman in power? If not, why should Kamala, who’s governed in godless ways, be a role model just because she’s a woman in power?”
Pastor Swofford preached about President Biden, calling him “cognitively dysfunctional,” and adding: “What if something happens to him? Jezebel has to take over — Jezebel Harris; isn’t that her name?”
This is the height of racism, misogyny and the weaponizing of the biblical text to harm and to do violence. I am not shocked at their evil; however, our vice president, an Afro-Asian-American deserves all the respect, dignity and protection that the office she holds demands.
“This is the height of racism, misogyny and the weaponizing of the biblical text to harm and to do violence.”
Get the story straight
Additionally, every Black woman and every woman must be defended from bullies, even if those bullies have pulpits, and spout their corrupt misunderstanding of the biblical text and their inciting of violence.
Wayne McDill, retired senior professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and author of Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching, states that when preaching you have to get the story straight. Pastors Buck and Swofford have not gotten the story straight. Do they know the correct story of Jezebel from Phoenicia? Of course, they do. They are seminary-trained pastors. Are Pastors Buck and Swofford counting on the general public’s lack of details about Jezebel’s story? Yes!
Consider these questions: Is Vice President Harris married to a king or a president? No. Is Vice President Harris trying to promulgate a different religion? No. Is Vice President Harris attempting to take land and wealth from the poor to give it to the privileged? No. Is Vice President Harris from a different country? No. She was born in Oakland, Calif. Is Vice President Harris advocating a miscarriage of justice and capital punishment upon an innocent person? No.
Have Pastors Buck and Swofford intentionally misinterpreted the story for their political, nationalist agenda? Yes!
The actual story of Jezebel
What is the Jezebel story? Jezebel was the daughter of Ithobaal I, king of Tyre, Phoenicia. Phoenicia is located in what is now Lebanon. Before rising to become the king, Ithobaal I had been a high priest, and he raised his daughter to become a priestess in Baal worship.
Ithobaal I had had expansionist ideas and advanced a diplomatic treaty with King Ahab, the neighboring king of Samaria, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. A marriage often was the diplomatic act that forged a treaty, and Jezebel became King Ahab’s wife. She immediately instituted Baal-Melkart worship, a nature god, by executing Yahweh prophets.
The Prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab and Jezebel and became their mortal enemy. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah prophesied that a severe drought would occur because of Ahab and Jezebel’s actions, and it did. A contest between the priest of Baal and Yahweh was held on Mount Gilboa to prove whose God existed by igniting with fire a sacrificial bull on an altar. Yahweh and Elijah prevailed, and Yahweh slew the priests of Baal. However, Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel, who swore to kill him. Elijah escaped, but Yahweh sent him back the way he came.
Second, Ahab and Jezebel coveted a vineyard owned by a commoner named Naboth, of Jezreel. Naboth refused to sell his family’s inheritance — the land. Consequently, Ahab and Jezebel concocted a conspiracy to accuse him of blaspheming God and the king. Ahab and Jezebel, as a miscarriage of justice, had Naboth stoned to death. They then seized his land as a penalty. Again, Elijah indicted them on their evil acts. Elijah confronted Ahab in the vineyard, predicting that Yahweh would destroy Ahab and all his heirs and dogs would devour Jezebel’s flesh.
Shalmaneser III of Assyria’s soldiers, in the battle of Qarqar, wounded Ahab, and he eventually died from his wounds (1 Kings 22:35-38), according to prophecy (1 Kings 21:19). Jezebel remained queen for 10 more years. Jehoram, the son of Jezebel and Ahab, became the king.
Yahweh took Elijah into heaven, and Yahweh anointed Elisha as successor prophet. Yahweh’s plan for Elisha was to eliminate Baal worship in Samaria. Elisha sent Jehu, his assassin, to kill Jehoram at Naboth’s vineyard. Afterward, Jehu went to the palace, where Jezebel was standing in a window. Jehu ordered the servant to throw her from the window to her death (2 Kings 9:33).
Later, Europeans declared the throwing of a person out a window an assassination by defenestration. Also, it describes a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office) in the defenestration of political leaders.
What’s really going on here?
Pastors Buck and Swofford calling Vice President Harris Jezebel is the first step of Christian nationalists for the forcible or peremptory removal of her as their adversary. Interestingly, it also suggests breaking the windows in the process — what we saw done on Jan. 6 to the U.S. Capitol.
“Calling Vice President Harris Jezebel demonstrates the fear and fragility of white people threatened by a wise, just and able woman of color.”
Calling Vice President Harris Jezebel demonstrates the fear and fragility of white people threatened by a wise, just and able woman of color. In America, political scientists have given this malaise of insecurities a name: “dominant group status threat.”
This phenomenon “is not the usual form of prejudice or stereotyping that involves looking down on outgroups who are perceived to be inferior,” writes Diana Mutz, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Instead, it is born of a sense that the outgroup is doing too well and thus is a viable threat to the dominant group’s status.”
Finally, calling Vice President Harris “Jezebel” makes implications about her sexuality and promiscuity. She is a married woman. She is attractive. She is a prosecutor, trained in interrogatory language and debate. Yet her critics do not know her.
According to David Pilgrim, professor of sociology at Ferris State University, “The portrayal of Black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, white women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty — even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. This depiction of Black women is signified by the name Jezebel.”
Over the centuries, calling a woman “Jezebel” has been used as a stereotype to denigrate them — especially Black women. A “pure” woman would not desire to engage in the give and take of language reserved for men. Jezebel is a stereotype of the seductress who leads men away from God. Jezebel is the false pious servant of a false god. Jezebel is the stereotype of the sexually promiscuous pagan Black woman.
The Trump influence
John Garfield, a pastor/blogger, hypocritically writes, “At the moment, few journalists, pastors, politicians or business leaders are leading this jailbreak. President Trump has been a unique kingdom voice over the last four years (also a favorite target of those under Jezebel’s influence). Prophets and pastors (the entire church mountain) are hiding in metaphors and spiritual generalities instead of clearly leading on real issues, effectively catering to the spirit of Jezebel predominant in people.”
However, the facts are that President Trump has been a liar, an apostate, his whole life. Trump has been a promiscuous womanizer, an unfaithful husband. Trump is an aloof father, a racist, a fascist, a misogynist, a violator of his oath of office. It is Trump who incited the rioters on Jan. 6 to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and “take their country back.” It is Trump who is responsible for the Capitol Police officer’s death from bludgeoning. It is Trump who the House of Representatives has filed impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors — twice!
“Stop weaponizing the biblical text to serve your Christian nationalist purposes. Jesus shed blood on Calvary to bring peace.”
Please get the story straight! Stop weaponizing the biblical text to serve your Christian nationalist purposes. Jesus shed blood on Calvary to bring peace. Jesus said, in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.”
Watch your rhetoric! Stop inciting violence — otherwise, some demented person will do violence by misunderstanding your false biblical exegesis.
Vice President Kamala Harris is not Jezebel. Who is she? She is a smart, talented, accomplished married female. She is a public servant who has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution from enemies, both foreign and domestic. Pastors Buck, Swofford and Garfield, stop being so fragile.
Reginald Lyles is a deacon, adult Sunday school teacher and Old Testament instructor in the Leadership Institute at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif. He is a retired police captain.